Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Adam Gopnik on Howells

From Through the Children's Gate (Knopf, 2006)

Howells is out of favor now. All literary reputation- making is unjust, but Howells is the victim of perhaps the single greatest injustice in American literary history. The period from 1880 to 1900, Henry Adams once said, was "our Howells-and-James epoch," and the two bearded grandees stood on terms as equal as the Smith brothers on a cough-drop box. But then Howells got identified unfairly with the "genteel" tradition, nice and dull. Now James gets Nicole Kidman and Helen Bonham Carter, even for his late fuzzy-sweater novels, along with biography after biography and collection after collection, and Howells gets one brave doomed defense every thirty years. Yet Howells, though an immeasurably less original sensibility than James, may be the better novelist, meaning that Howells on almost any subject strikes you as right, while James on almost any subject strikes you as James (p. 25)
--Submitted by Stanley Wertheim